BCCLA to VPD: Leave the big guns at home for demos
The BCCLA has asked the Vancouver Police Department to stop bringing semi-automatic military weaponry to demonstrations in Vancouver, even where demonstrations present public order issues.
“Even in a scenario like Saturday where a group of protesters engage in illegal property damage, as well as reprehensible violence against police and citizens, the Police were able to restore order without pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, Tasers or handguns,” said Robert Holmes, President of the BCCLA. “Do they really need military grade semi-automatic rifles?”
The BCCLA has monitored police action over a number of major public order events over many years, including the Guns and Roses riot, the so-called “Riot at the Hyatt”, and the Stanley Cup riot. Saturday is the first instance the BCCLA is aware of where military guns have been deployed for civilian crowd control purposes in Vancouver.
“High powered rifles in a stressful situation add to the risk of law enforcement and security measures going seriously wrong,” said Holmes. “The public has not been told of any security threat that would justify the presence of such weaponry. Just as the sonic gun raised controversy last fall, so too the presence of these weapons should be explained and, unless absolutely necessary, they should be withdrawn.”
Vancouver Police Department public order officer Vince Forsberg confirmed that the weapons were deployed to back up Crowd Control Unit police officers who do not carry firearms, and said that he understood them to be “intermediate weapons” designed “to allow an accurate shot at an intermediate range (usually under 100 meters).”
Legal Observing is a way of volunteering for the Olympics that fits with my values and feels useful. My son told me about the program when I expressed my ambivalence about the games. Our training stressed our neutral role, and reminded me of my first experience in contribution through witnessing.
In November 1969, I was part of a busload of Toronto university students at the Moratorium in Washington DC protesting the war in Vietnam. The organizers needed volunteers from the protesters to maintain the proportionate number of “marshals” required by their parade permit. So, along with many of the Canadians, I stopped marching and became a peacekeeper. Wikipedia reports that “a quarter of a million demonstrators were led by Pete Seeger in singing John Lennon’s new song ‘Give Peace a Chance’.” I was there in the front row, though my back was turned to the celebrities. I stood in the human chain around the stage, facing the crowd. In my role as buffer, I felt like I was living the lyrics.
The civil liberties issues are different with the Olympics, but I am glad that, by becoming a Legal Observer, I have found a way of situating myself to the games. Through visibility and record-keeping, I hope I can help maintain a safe space for the articulation of differing points of view.
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
February 16, 2010
For immediate release
BC Civil Liberties Calls on Canadian Border Services to Explain their “Inland” Patrols
ATTENTION EDITORS: The previously announced daily press briefings at 8:00 a.m. at 1188 West Georgia are cancelled. Press briefings will be announced by media advisory.
The BCCLA is calling on the Canadian Border Services Agency to explain the presence of “inland” patrols in downtown Vancouver which are increasingly being noted by the BCCLA Legal Observers.
Legal Observers attended at yesterday’s major demonstrations which proceeded peacefully: an anti-war demonstration that took place at the Vancouver Art Gallery Monday evening and an anti-houseless demonstration took place at noon. The housing demonstration culminated in a “tent village” that is situated in a vacant lot in the 100 block of West Hastings Street. While all went well at these events, the Legal Observers are noting policing changes.
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director, BCCLA: “We are sensing a shift in the policing culture of the public demonstrations, in particular we are noting the presence of Canadian Border Services Agents patrolling public space. We are unclear on their authority and mandate and ask the CBSA to clarify for the public what they are doing patrolling our downtown streets.”
The Legal Observers have also seen Corrections Officers present at demonstrations and will be seeking clarification on this as well.
Vonn: “We are seeing an edgier tone to the policing of the demonstrations with increased incidents of our Legal Observers being pointedly photographed and addressed by name by police officers who are apparently interested in letting our volunteer citizen observers know that the police have gone to some effort to identify them.”
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director, BCCLA, 778-829-3471
David Eby, Executive Director, BCCLA, 778-865-7997
February 15, 2010
Thank you for your good work around all of the various public events that have taken place to date. Your work is helping keep people safe and their rights protected.
There has been much media attention paid to our program lately, mostly positive, but some recently questioning our partiality in light of Saturday’s Black Block demonstration and the fact that we were not present. I am writing to you to clarify the decisions that were made then, and policy changes as a result.
The BCCLA was contacted by a representative of Saturday morning’s demonstration who advised us that we were not welcome to send observers to the demonstration. As the Observer program was set up to protect free speech and free assembly against police excess, while the decision seemed unwise, it did not seem weird.
The stated intent of the protest on posters advertising the event was to block roads, an illegal action, but generally considered to be civil disobedience. In short, it was a relatively routine type of protest for Vancouver in terms of risk to police, protesters and the public. The contact advised the BCCLA they were concerned about video footage being used in prosecutions against them, and that they were concerned the LO program was infiltrated by police. While we recognize there is no way to know whether police have infiltrated us, it seems a remote possibility. The risk, however, of a subpoena demanding Observer footage is very real.
As a result, not wishing to be seen as an evidence collecting arm of the police or to put Observers in the position of being confronted by organizers telling them to leave, I made the decision not to send Observers to the event. I wish I had that decision back, let me tell you. When we got the call that mass arrests were happening, we sent observers, but they arrived after all of the action was over and were limited to shots of police standing around in riot gear.
The media, and even some demonstrators from Saturday, have asked the question, and quite fairly, “Why weren’t Observers at the event?” This is, obviously, our first run at a Legal Observer program. We were set up explicitly to watch police, but necessarily note the context of police action in evaluating the appropriateness of that action. We figured the program was for the benefit of demonstrators, so demonstrators should be able to call us off if they wished. But the optics of that given Saturday’s event is incredibly problematic. We should have been there monitoring the police, but we weren’t. It was a mistake not to go to the demonstration, even if we weren’t welcomed by some of the demonstrators, and we’re correcting it.
From now on, Observers will attend all events we feel might involve police action regardless of invitation. If there is hostility to Observers being present, Observers at the start of the shift will be advised of that and given the opportunity to reschedule on a different shift if they wish. Observers may also make safety decisions of staying a fair distance from events given the receptiveness of organizers to our presence. The good news is that we are not aware of any upcoming demonstrations where our observers are not welcome, and the issue has not yet come up.
I hope this helps clarify things for everyone, and that we can continue our good work in the streets of holding the police accountable. So far, Police have been remarkably restrained, and I am certain that it is our Observer program that helped them understand the benefits of holding back on the tear gas and pepper spray.
B.C. Civil Liberties Association
In addition to the VPD and RCMP officers making themselves visible around Olympic venues and around the city, there are police from every other province adding to the ranks.
We’ve snapped a few photos of the various badges we’ve noticed around town, but we know we haven’t got all of them yet. If you have any you’d like to add to the gallery, let us know! Add it to our Flickr Pool or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Olympic Village was one of the first areas of the city locked down before the Games. We took a wander around the security perimeter today. There is an amazing amount of video surveillance around the Village, and the double layers of fencing are hardened with concrete barricades. There are also lots of ISU personnel around, from RCMP to private security.
Here are some of the photos we took:
The Vancouver Police Department has purchased an LRAD, or a Long Range Acoustic Device, for use during the 2010 Olympics. The LRAD is a non-lethal weapon that emits painfully loud sound in a focused beam. The device came under scrutiny after it was used on protesters at the recent G20 meetings in Pittsburgh.
Despite its capabilities as a crowd control weapon, the VPD claims the new device will only be used to make announcements to the public:
Const. Lindsay Houghton said the device was first tested this summer as a public address system during the Celebration of Light fireworks events in Vancouver.
Houghton said police don’t plan to use the device for anything more than communication.
“The primary function we’re using the device for is its ability to communicate with very large groups with respect to crowd control, evacuations, tactical situations where we may need the loudspeaker portion of it,” he said.
The BCCLA’s President, Rob Holmes, had concerns about the acquisition. “This crowd control weapon was obtained without any public discussion and without any defined policy for its safe and proper use.” Safety will be a major concern should the LRAD be deployed as a weapon. At its maximum volume, the LRAD can cause permanent hearing damage if individuals remain in its focus for an extended period. It emits sounds of up to 151 dB, well past the threshold of pain (120 dB) and just below a level that can cause instantaneous hearing loss (160dB).
If the VPD simply wanted a loudspeaker, there is military-grade hardware available for a fraction of the cost. As Bob Mackin suggested on Twitter, you may want to invest in some earplugs if you’ll be in Vancouver come February.